Blacks consists of two works: Padgett's translation of Roussel's early
story "Parmi les noirs," first published in 1935 in his book Comment
j'ai écrit certain de mes livres, together with Padgett's memoir
focusing upon his own experience among black people. Roussel's story,
about a master mariner named White who encounters an African chief named
Booltable, is built upon the kind of whimsical and extravagant word play
(its first and last sentences are identical except for one letter in one
word--"pooltable"/ "Booltable") for which Roussel was idolized by the
French Surrealists. In contrast, as he writes in his Afterword, Padgett's
memoir "grew out of the nagging need to come to grips with the frustrations
of being a white American who had grown up in a racist environment and
who, despite his rejections of racism at an early age, had rarely felt
unselfconscious in the company of a black person." Its language is transparent
and unmannered, "an attempt simply to tell the truth, and to do so with
a minumum of artfulness."
"Raymond Roussel, or genius in the pure state . . ."
"What he leaves us with is a work that is like the perfectly preserved
temple of a cult which has disappeared without a trace, or a complicated
set of tools whose use cannot be discovered. But even though we may never
be able to 'use' [Roussel's] work in the way he hoped, we can still
admire its inhuman beauty, and be stirred by a language that seems always on
the point of revealing its secret, of pointing the way back to the
'republic of dreams' whose insignia blazed on his forehead."
"Ron Padgett is a complex figure: brash and bashful, streetwise and wonderful,
boyish and cultivated, zany and commonsensical, American and cosmopolitan,
wily and naïve, understated and extravagant, artful and fresh, sympathetic
and reserved, wry and plainspoken."
-- Alan Bernheimer
"Recommended for the consummate litterateur, and for those who don't know